Are self-defense claims an option in Virginia?

Self-defense laws vary from state to state. Virginia calls for reasonably proportional self-defense but can be more flexible in home invasion cases.

In Virginia, criminal defendants are allowed to claim that they acted in self-defense. However, there are limits as to what is considered reasonable self-defense. As an example, if John Smith is trying to engage Jose Jones in a fistfight, Jose probably cannot pull out a gun, shoot John and successfully claim self-defense. The acts someone takes in self-defense must be reasonably proportional.

Factors that go into self-defense claims

To determine what a judge or jury might find reasonably proportional, lawyers assess factors such as the history of the two parties and any threats one party has made toward the other.

It also matters if the case in question is something such as a home invasion. Often, the Virginia court system finds that homeowners in the state are justified in shooting people who break into their homes. Homeowners who suddenly realize that someone else is in their home may suddenly fear for their safety and their lives, and they act in self-defense.

People might also be okay using lethal force to defend themselves against robbery and other forcible felonies. It is important, however, to remember that the victim must be in great fear of harm or for his or her life. So, someone simply being asked to hand over his wallet may not pass the sniff test. However, someone being flashed a gun and being asked to hand over his wallet might.

When it is no longer "defense"

In Virginia, once the need for "defense" abates, victims have a harder time making a self-defense case. For example, if Jane Doe is in Virginia and keeps shooting at an armed carjacker after the carjacker is no longer a threat, she could possibly get in trouble for any injuries she causes at that point. But while the armed carjacker is directly menacing her, she does have the legal right to use lethal self-defense.

Of course, it is true that sometimes, people may not want to claim self-defense or act in self-defense if they have an illegal firearm or if there is a legality problem with the weapon.

Self-defense is an area of the law that can get murky even in a state such as Virginia. A lawyer can advise defendants on the strength of a possible self-defense case.